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Jail staff was told a detainee needed medical attention. The help never came.

By Andy Pierrotti

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    COBB COUNTY, Georgia (WANF) — Two weeks before Brady Allen died, he proudly posted on Facebook how far he’d come battling drug addiction.

“I finally feel free and I’m loving myself again,” the 41-year-old Cobb County resident wrote in 2021. The Facebook post included a picture of a roaring lion. “This is how I feel after a half a decade of recovery.”

Allen’s parents said it was the first time in years they felt there was light at the end of the tunnel. He had recently landed a new job as a truck driver and moved into a new home. “He was motivated and he was making a lot progress,” said Allen’s mother, Karen. “So, we were excited.”

A few days later, everything changed. Allen lost his job, fell into depression, and relapsed.

Allen was released from a Cartersville, Georgia, hospital on May 22, 2021, after being treated for a drug overdose. His parents said Allen left the hospital in a cab, but didn’t have enough money to make it to their home. They believe he got lost and wandered to a house along the way.

Later that day, Cobb County police arrested Allen for criminal trespassing at a house in which he did not live, a few blocks away from his parents’ home. According to police body camera footage, officers suspected he was suffering a mental health crisis.

Allen was asked by a responding officer if he lived at the house where he was found. “Whose house is this? … Am I hallucinating?” Allen responded. “Wow, I’m really embarrassed. I must have done a lot of damage to my brain.”

Officers found him on the front porch of the home with no shirt. “He’s completely out of it,” one officer said to another at the scene. “He has no clue, even know where he is right now.”

Allen apologized to the officers. He also told them he had just been released from a hospital. Officers found multiple bottles of medication intended to treat depression and anxiety with Allen.

When he arrived at the Cobb County Detention Center, the arresting officer told jail staff Allen needed medical help.

According to a screening document the officer provided to the jail, he said Allen was hearing voices; seeing visions; admitted to using meth and heroine within the past 72 hours; injured his head; had flu-like symptoms and appeared disoriented.

Security video inside the detention center shows a jail medic spoke with Allen for two minutes, 47 seconds. Brady’s blood pressure, temperature and heart rate were never checked.

During a videotaped interview, an internal affairs investigator asked the medic why Allen’s vitals were not checked, as typical protocol. The medic said he was too busy. “I mean, obviously in retrospect, yes, would’ve wanted to check his vitals,” said the medic.

The medic also told the investigator he doesn’t remember seeing Allen’s screening document that listed his potential medical issues. “Do you not think that it would have been important to look at the sheet that would have described what was going on with him?” asked the investigator. The medic agreed, but claimed he doesn’t recall seeing the document.

The investigator appeared to be skeptical. “The problem is this, I’ve watched video of you for hours. …they are going to see you looking at a piece of paper in the sally port,” said the investigator, referring to the area where inmates are booked. The medic said he didn’t remember what document he was holding in the video.

Throughout the night, Allen appeared to get more agitated. Security video shows Allen inside a cell by himself slowly pulling out his hair. When he entered the cell, Allen had long, thick hair. About eight hours later, he’s seen with strikingly shorter, thinner hair. Clumps of hair are all over the floor of his cell.

“They knew that this man had a problem,” said Karen Allen. “He was in pain and it was obvious and they ignored it.”

The jail’s medical staff never took Allen to the infirmary or sent him to the hospital. The only time jail staff entered his cell, was when Allen broke a fire apparatus on the wall.

When Allen tried to escape, deputies tackled him, shot him multiple times with a pepper ball gun and twice with a Taser. Within minutes, Allen stopped breathing. At one point during the altercation, Allen said, ‘I can’t breathe,” but deputies reported he continued to struggle and resist.

According to the internal affairs report, one of the deputies trying to keep Allen from evading, told another, “to make sure that he did not have his body weight on Inmate Allen.” At the time, the deputy was applying pressure on Allen’s jaw.

According to the Cobb County Medical Examiner’s Office, Allen’s cause of death was “sudden death associated with acute methamphetamine intoxication and law enforcement subdual.” It ruled his manner of death as “undermined.”

Allen’s parents paid for a second autopsy from a private medical examiner who ruled Allen’s death a homicide.

The sheriff responds Craig Owens is Cobb County’s sheriff, responsible for operating the jail. Allen’s death happened about five months after he took office in January 2021.

Owens watched the video of Allen in his cell, but isn’t sure if Allen was having a mental health crisis. “Not being a 100 percent trained in medical, I can’t answer that correctly,” Owens said. He also wouldn’t comment on whether he believes Allen received adequate medical care. “As again, I stated earlier, I am not a trained medical professional. I can only go up with the people we put in those places and pay to do that job tell us,” he said.

Cobb County currently contracts with Wellpath to provide medical services for the jail. The Tennessee-based corporation is one of the nation’s largest medical providers for detention centers and prisons.

In another interview conducted by the county’s internal affairs unit reviewing Allen’s death, a deputy told an investigator there was a history of medical staff not taking inmate medical care seriously. “I had went to the nurse and said, ‘Oh, this inmate is having chest pain,” the deputy said. “I had a nurse shut the door on my face.”

Owens said he was appalled to hear the deputy’s characterization of the medical staff, but claimed the deputy was talking about her experience before he took control of the jail. “But that shouldn’t happen then,” the sheriff said. “And I can tell you, it’s not going to happen now.”

Owens said the medic who did not check Allen’s vitals no longer works at the jail. WellPath declined an interview request; “Wellpath does not comment on potential or ongoing litigation,” said Wellpath spokesperson Teresa Koeberlein in an email.

Atlanta attorney Timothy Gardner represents Allen’s parents in a forthcoming lawsuit, and said deputies and the medical staff share the blame. “It’s their job to work together,” Gardner said. “We don’t believe that the policies in place were followed, or that Mr. Allen’s mental health condition was taken seriously.”

Gardner also represents the family of Kevil Wingo, who died while detained at the Cobb County Detention Center in 2019. Security camera video showed the 36-year-old complaining about pain and repeatedly requesting to be sent to the hospital. Instead, the medical staff sent him to a padded room, where he later died from a perforated ulcer.

Wingo’s lawsuit against the county is pending. That incident also happened before Owens was elected.

Owens asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to investigate Allen’s death. The Cobb County District Attorneys office presented the case to a grand jury in September 2022, which declined to indict any of the jail employees. An internal affairs investigation found none of the deputies violated any jail policies.

Allen’s father disagrees. “You picked up a man from the street for trespassing and in less than 24 hours, he’s dead in your jail,” Scott Allen said. “Something is wrong with the system and it needs to be fixed.”

Changes at the jail According to Cobb’s medical examiner, eight people detained at the jail have died since Owens took office. At least three were suicides. The remainder were connected to chronic medical issues before the inmates arrived at the jail. Allen’s death is the only one identified as “undetermined.”

Since Allen’s death, Owens said he’s implemented multiple changes in an attempt to improve inmate care, including requiring medical staff to check inmates’ vitals and completing medical screening documents once they arrive instead of the arresting office. Owens said some inmates also wear devices on their wrists, similar to a Fitbit or an Apple Watch, which monitors their heart rate and blood pressure.

The jail has also implemented round-the-clock mental healthcare, a first-of-its-kind in Georgia. Owens estimated 80 percent of the jail’s population arrive with preexisting mental health issues. “My deputies are not mental health care professionals,” Owens said. “I leave it up to the mental health care provider that we contract [with].”

Owens said the state is in the process of bringing a behavioral health unit inside the detention center. “They want to partner with us because we’ve done some great things in that avenue of mental health care, of trying to provide that level of support to these inmates in this facility,” he said.

Like most jails in the state, detainees often arrive with health problems jail staff is not always equipped to identify or treat.

This week, the sheriff’s department said someone in its custody has a medical condition requiring him to receive treatment outside of the jail. It costs $500 to $1,000 a day to do that. A jail spokesperson said the county is also currently treating a detained woman who has a serious heart condition. “We just don’t know how much longer her heart will last,” Owens said.

“Sometimes people expect a jail to give you better care than a hospital,” Owens said. “That’s not what we are. We are a correctional facility and we get them to the hospital as quick as we can to get proper care.”

Allen’s parents said the jail’s medical staff should have requested to send their son to the hospital, but they failed to perform the proper evaluations to make that determination. “They just assumed this is a crazy person and we can’t help him,” Scott Allen said. “They weren’t willing to try to get the help he needed.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story included a graphic identifying total jail death numbers in metro Atlanta. ANF has removed this graphic until one of the counties can provide clarification. ANF also added additional context to how Cobb County deputies responded to Brady Allen shortly before he stopped breathing.

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